The West Kootenays is south-eastern British Columbia, Canada. The area is approximately defined as being the area south of the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy # 1) from Revelstoke and including the valleys of Slocan Lake and Kootenay Lake and at least part of the Arrow Lake valley (Columbia River), as far south as the USA border.
Cities, towns and villages
- 1 Nelson is "the Queen City" of the Kootenays, renowned for its tourism, culture and outdoor activities.
- 2 Castlegar is the crossroads of the Kootenays. Whether you decide to stop here or not, you will likely pass through it if you visit the West Kootenays
- 3 Creston is at the south end of Kootenay Lake next to some of the best of the limited agricultural areas around this region.
- 4 Rossland is a picturesque mountain town world famous for its skiing at Red Mountain Resort and also noted for great mountain biking.
- 5 Trail is an industrial town dominated by one of the largest lead-zinc smelters in the world
- 6 Ainsworth Hot Springs-Balfour are neighbouring communities on west shore of Kootenay Lake, home to natural hot springs and the longest toll-free ferry in the world.
- 7 Kaslo is an attractive village on the west shore of Kootenay Lake, nestled between the Purcell Mountains and Selkirk Mountains and home to the world's oldest intact sternwheeler, the SS Moyie.
- 8 Salmo is a village equidistant from Nelson, Castlegar, and Trail, known as "the Hub of the Kootenays".
- 9 Nakusp is a medium-sized town on the east side of Arrow Lakes (Columbia River).
- 10 New Denver is a small village on Slocan Lake, about 45 minutes drive east of Kaslo.
- 11 Christina Lake is on the south end of Christina Lake, the warmest tree-lined lake in Western Canada.
- 12 Grand Forks is a small town near the US border, a convenient food and fuel stop on the Crowsnest Pass Highway.
- 13 Greenwood is a tiny city near the US border, known as the smallest incorporated city in Canada.
- 1 Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park — lies in an area roughly bounded by the highways connecting Kaslo, New Denver and Nelson. The only official campground near the most-visited part of the park is at Kaslo Lake. The Kokanee Cabin can be found a few hours hike from the Gibson Lake trailhead. Access in summer is a hiking trail and in winter by helicopter as it is also a popular backcountry skiing destination.
- 2 Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area — a river delta wetland near Creston; it is predominantly marshland, and is a wetland of international importance and a globally significant Important Bird Area.
- 3 Stagleap Provincial Park — a protected habitat for mountain caribou.
- 4 Syringa Provincial Park — it has a rocky beach and has amenities for boating, camping, and hiking.
In general, the West Kootenays is a little more remote and a little more difficult to get into and travel around than some of the more populated parts of the province. You will probably find that the residents of this area live here at least partly because that's what they like. Winding roads require somewhat slower travel. If locals have one complaint, especially during tourist season, it's about visitors roaring about, making excessive noise and generally making the highways unsafe and unpleasant. To fully appreciate the place, visitors need to slow down, relax and enjoy what the region has to offer. There's little interest in seeing the frantic bustle of the big city imported here by visitors in too much of a hurry.
The West Kootenays doesn't include the Columbia River and Kootenay River Valley south of Golden to Cranbrook. This is the East Kootenays. It's very nice, but it's not the West Kootenays.
- You may hear the phrase Kootenay Time used occasionally. This may be interpreted as "I'll get there when I get there" or "It will happen when it happens". You may find some shops that aren't always open right on time. Relax. It's not usually a crisis.
- The ubiquitous FSR. This is a Forest Service Road or, more commonly, a logging road, which is what these roads were built to service. They are often identified by brown Forest Service signs, they seem to be everywhere and they are the only real access into the backcountry. Many are rough and steep and require high clearance vehicles. Maybe a vehicle that doesn't have a paint job you're unusually fond of. If there is active logging going on, you may also meet large trucks with loads of logs, or protesters. You can get lost or stuck. Caution is advised.
Airports within this region with scheduled commercial flights
- Castlegar (Canadian Rockies International Airport - YXC IATA) - the main airport in the region, but is susceptible to flight cancellations and delays due to fog, especially in the winter
- Trail Regional Airport (YZZ IATA) - more limited flight options, less susceptible to issues of fog
- Mountain Man Mike's Bus Service, ☏ , email@example.com. Operates bus routes that mostly travel along the Crowsnest Highway (Highway 3) near the southern edge of British Columbia. Routes include:
- Between Kaslo and Vancouver with stops in Balfour, Nelson, Castlegar, Christina Lake, Grand Forks, Greenwood, Rock Creek, Osoyoos, Keremeos, Princeton, Manning Provincial Park, Hope, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley, and New Westminster. Operates two trips per week per direction.
- Between Calgary and Kaslo with stops in Okotoks, High River, Claresholm, Lethbridge, Fort Macleod, Pincher Creek, Sparwood, Fernie, Cranbrook, Creston, Salmo, Nelson, and Balfour. Operates one trip per week per direction.
- Silver City Stagelines Limited, firstname.lastname@example.org. Multiple days per week bus service between Trail and Kelowna with stops in Nelson, Castlegar, Christina Lake, Grand Forks, Greenwood, Midway, and Rock Creek.
The easiest way to see the Kootenays is by private vehicle. There is very limited public transit in this region. Some routes are pretty quiet so hitch-hiking could be chancy, especially late in the day and outside the main tourist season. In the summer, it's a popular destination for motorcyclists. Some hardier types will enjoy biking in the area, just be aware that the hills will give you a good workout.
By public transit
BC Transit operates the following bus transit systems in the region:
- Boundary (Grand Forks and Greenwood) - unlike the other systems, this system requires phone reservation
- West Kootenay (Balfour, Castlegar, Nelson, Rossland, Slocan, and Trail) with limited available to Kaslo, Nakusp, New Denver, and Salmo.
- Inland Ferries. Operated under contract for British Columbia's Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, inland ferries are vehicle ferries that connect roads across rivers and lakes. Routes operate throughout the year, but some river ferries may not operate during parts of the Spring due to river conditions. Free. Ferries in this region:
- 1 Arrow Park Cable Ferry. Daily 5AM-12:05PM, 2:15PM-9:20PM. Crosses the junction between Upper Arrow Lake and Lower Arrow Lake. Located just north of Highway 6, about 22 km south of Nakusp. 5 minutes crossing. Operates on demand.
- 2 Glade Cable Ferry. Daily 5AM-2:20AM. Crosses the Kootenay River. Located just east of Highway 3A, about 22 km west of Nelson. 3 minutes crossing. Operates on demand.
- 3 Harrop Cable Ferry. 24/7. Crosses the Kootenay River. Located just south of Highway 3A, about 24 km east of Nelson. 5 minutes crossing. Operates on demand.
- 4 Kootenay Lake Ferry, Balfour–Kootenay Bay (Highway 3A; 35 km (22 mi) east of Nelson or 81 km (50 mi) north of Creston). Daily first departure: 6:30AM-7:10AM (Balfour/Kootenay Bay); daily last departure: 9:40PM/10:20PM (Balfour/Kootenay Bay). This is the longest toll-free ferry in the world. Connects Highway 3A across Kootenay Lake. 35 minutes crossing. Sailings depart from a given side every 1 hour 40 minutes to 1 hour 50 minutes, though this increases for most of the day up to every 40 to 50 minutes during the summer.
- 5 Needles Ferry, Needles–Fauquier (Highway 6; 59 km (37 mi) south of Nakusp or 135 km (84 mi) east of Vernon (in Okanagan)). Daily first scheduled ferry: 5AM/5:15 PM (Fauquier/Needles); daily last scheduled ferry: 10PM/9:45PM (Fauquier/Needle); Daily on demand: 10PM-5AM. Connects Highway 6 across Lower Arrow Lake between Fauquier and Needles. 5 minutes crossing. During scheduled service hours, ferries depart every 30 minutes from a given side.
- 6 Upper Arrow Lake Ferry, Shelter Bay–Galena Bay (Highway 23; 48 km (30 mi) north of Nakusp or 52 km (32 mi) south of Revelstoke (in Columbia-Rockies)). Daily first departure: 5AM/5:30 AM (Shelter Bay/Galena Bay); Daily last departure: midnight/12:30 PM (Shelter Bay/Galena Bay). Connects Highway 23 across Upper Arrow Lake. 20 minutes crossing. Sailings are depart every 60 minutes from a given side.
The area generally has quite stunning scenery. Details are contained in the listings for many of the towns in the region.
Nelson, the region's largest town, has been called the "Number One Small Town Arts Community in Canada", and is home to a large and diverse artisan community, while Castlegar hosts its annual Sculpturewalk, a rotating exhibition of hundreds of sculptures and artworks by international artists.
In Salmo, you can see the World’s Largest Penny, and the World’s Oldest Phone Booth, made from a hollowed out cedar tree from the Trout Lake area. Also in Salmo, Shambhala, the largest electronic music festival in Canada, is held during the first week of August.
Kaslo hosts the SS Moyie, the world's oldest intact passenger sternwheeler.
The Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre in New Denver tells the story of over 22,000 Japanese Canadians who were forcibly relocated during World War II to an internment camp.
The Rossland Mining Museum & Gold Mine Tour is an underground tour of the old Le Roi Gold Mine that last operated in 1929.
There are many reasons to visit the West Kootenays. The longer one stays, the more opportunities appear. In addition to the most noticeable such as the various provincial parks, towns and local ski hills, there are many backcountry trails which really expose you to some of the wilderness that remains in this part of the province. There is a trails guidebook which is a good start, but repeated visits and contact with the locals can get you into some quite amazing destinations. Accessing many of these areas often requires a high-clearance vehicle, travel on logging roads and good maps, just to sort out where to go.
The Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area is a protected flood plain that has been returned into a productive wildlife and waterfowl habitat.
Stagleap Provincial Park (west of Creston) plays a key role in protecting habitat for endangered mountain caribou.
Syringa Creek Provincial Park (northwest of Castlegar) has a large sandy beach. It protects provincially significant interior Douglas-fir forests and preserves one of the few remaining examples of grassland ecosystems in the Kootenays.
Near Trail, there are many popular hiking and biking trails around Violin Lake and Champion Lakes Provincial Park area.
The Nakusp Hot Springshave two pools fed by water from natural mineral springs set in the forest a ways from the pools.
If all you want is the usual fast food, the West Kootenays has the usual complement of fast food outlets, but it is possible to do better than that.
All of the communities in the region have at least a few good to excellent establishments serving a pretty wide selection of food. There isn't really a regional cuisine but many of the establishments cater to vegetarians and to omnivores, many take the trouble to source locally-grown produce and some have created some pretty unique menu items.
There are at lots of brewing companies in the West Kootenays:
- Trail Beer Refinery, 1299 Bay Ave, Trail
- Rossland Beer Company, 1990F Columbia Ave, Rossland
- Erie Creek Brewing Company, 117 Fourth St, Salmo
- Tailout Brewing, 1810 8th Ave Unit A, Castlegar
- Torchlight Brewing Co., 125 Hall St, Nelson
- Nelson Brewing Company, 512 Latimer St, Nelson
- Backroads Brewing Co., 460 Baker St, Nelson
- Angry Hen Brewing Co., 343 Front St, Kaslo
- Wild North Brewing Co., 125 16 Ave N, Creston
- Columbia Brewing Co. (Macro), 1220 Erickson Rd, Creston
Given this choice, make it a point to sample some of the local brews while travelling in the region.
The region isn't well known for wineries; there just isn't the heat or the soil available here the way there is in the Okanagan. However, despite that, there are at least two wineries in the region: Columbia Gardens Vineyard & Winery just south of Trail and Skimmerhorn Winery & Vineyard in Creston.
There are few things (in the normal sense) to worry about when traveling in the West Kootenays. Crime is infrequent and the people are friendly and helpful. The main hazards are generally associated with the mountain environment that makes up the West Kootenays. Roads are often narrow and winding and there can be hazards from falling rocks and avalanches (in winter). There is wildlife in the area like grizzly bears, black bears, elk and mountain lions. If you venture off into the backcountry, then you must be prepared for wilderness conditions. As in most mountainous regions, weather can change quickly, the terrain is difficult and steep and it can take longer to get to your destination than you might expect.
- Whitewater Winter Resort is the nordic and alpine ski area closest to Nelson, about a 15-minute drive. The area claims to get about 45 ft (14 m) of snow during the winter and if you get a chance to experience skiing after a good snowfall, you will start to appreciate what the locals call a "powder day". Powder days can be pretty busy on the hill because many locals will put everything aside, including the work day, to get out and carve some turns on days like those.